The Pit of Despair claims to really work on back pain
October 18, 2007 12:17 PM   Subscribe

What are your experiences with non-surgical alternatives to a herniated lower back disc?

I'm wondering about various non-surgical alternatives to relieving a herniated lower back disc. I'm personally okay back-wise but I have a friend with some real issues. I ran across this therapy (, which honestly seems a bit quackish (and expensive), but claims to have helped thousands. Has anybody used this and had success? I get the idea behind IDD - basically the rack. The quackish part seems to be high prices for that treatment and touted rates of eighty-five percent success (which all link back to one article from 1997 with a trial of like 30 people and "preliminary" results)

If you've had successful non-surgical treatment for your herniated disc, what was it?

Any research you previously viewed, that you found helpful is great. Here's a thread from 2 & 1/2 years ago on AskMe. (If you commented in that thread, I'd love to hear how you're doing today. Or, for some of you, I'd love to hear how high your StepFather currently is.)
posted by sociolibrarian to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My sister-in-law got great relief from hatha yoga. Enough that she started teaching. Pissed her (former) doctors off, too; they were all hot to cut her up.
posted by tigerjade at 12:25 PM on October 18, 2007

My ex-partner and I journeyed to Canada, so she could have a chymopapain injection, back in 1981 (the FDA had not yet okayed it in the USA). She had spent 9 months off work and in pain. The next day saw her up and walking. She continues to do her back exercises daily.
posted by Carol Anne at 12:45 PM on October 18, 2007

I have complicated sciatica, including some permanent nerve damage that was highly aggravated by a prolonged hospital stay last spring. In addition to the recommendations in the linked thread, most of which were very good, I would add:

1) I've had great relief from a new Tempur-Pedic® bed. This made more difference to me than all other treatments combined. Your (friend's) results may vary.

2) Heat/ice treatments. I apply heat then ice in 15-to-20 minute increments to my lower back in the evening for at least an hour.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:53 PM on October 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Treat Your Own Back - cheaper than surgery or SpineAmerica, and for most people it works fine. Surgery is for severe cases, like when you are having trouble feeling or using your legs. The rack might provide temporary relief, but I fail to see how it would provide a long term solution.
posted by caddis at 12:55 PM on October 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

If it sounds like quackery, it is.

I had back pain that lasted more than 2 years, gradually getting worse and worse. I had numbness in my legs and could barely walk normally. I tried many different types of physical therapy--nothing worked.

I visited both an orthopedic surgeon and a neurosurgeon who were both ready to get me in "as early as Friday." Fortunately for me, I always had an excuse to put it off--Christmas, out-of-town visitors, vacation, etc.

Then one day after 2 years of this, it spontaneously started getting better and better. Now, I only have slight day-to-day back pain and no leg pain. I can walk normal, but I still cannot run. Who needs to run anyway?

When I had a flare-up a few months ago, I asked my doctor about surgery. He said if the leg pain is gone, surgery will do nothing. He said to load up on ibuprofen for day-to-day pain, and wrote a prescription for acute episodes.

Bottom line: Surgery can be very effective if the disk is pinching a nerve and causing (e.g.) leg pain. Surgery is NOT very effective for "vanilla" back pain. Recent research confirms this.
posted by GarageWine at 12:58 PM on October 18, 2007

As the son of a neurosurgeon, I can tell you two things: one, the surgery these days is routine and has a comparatively quick recovered, and two, that you'll need to do your physical therapy (exercises) religiously. If a doctor is recommending surgery, that's what should happen.
posted by awesomebrad at 1:04 PM on October 18, 2007

A good friend of mine did a six week program using 'the rack' where he was on the rack most every day combined with yoga type stretching. It did NOTHING to help him. In fact all he got out of it was a knee injury when one of the nurses had trouble getting him out of the rack. He later had to get surgery to repair the knee injury.

It was a waste of time and money for him. He recently started Yoga and bought a good bed. His back is doing much better now then it ever was.

IMO, stay away from the rack and focus on muscle strength/building and invest in a good mattress.
posted by birdlips at 2:00 PM on October 18, 2007

I've been doing the plank for a couple of months. It's helping somewhat. I can run again.
posted by londongeezer at 2:26 PM on October 18, 2007

I had a herniated disc and degenerative disc disease, but in my upper spine. It caused arm pain, tingling, and numbness for months.

I tried physical therapy, which made it feel better for about 30-90 minutes immediately after each session, but had no long-term effect. I tried acupuncture, which clearly targeted something precisely, since during treatment, I could feel the nerve 'light up' when the needle stimulated it, but again, that had no lasting effect. Then, as a last resort before surgery, I had an epidural steroid injection. It's been 6 years, and I am 99% symptom free, which seems to astound my doctor at each check-up, so I guess my results may not be typical.

Also, I've observed some spinal surgery as a researcher, and while awesomebrad's information comes from an informed source, and I don't disagree that the procedure itself may be routine, my understanding is that some spinal surgery can set up a domino effect. The level above or below the treated ones can require treatment after a little while, and so on. So, I don't think it's unreasonable to exhaust non-surgical alternatives first, in close consultation with a reputable doctor.
posted by daisyace at 4:22 PM on October 18, 2007

I ran a spinal rehabilitation facility for a number of years. It's worth checking out the Medx Lumbar extension. Facility Locater here. (yes, they harvest your email address.

Ever use any exercise equipment? Most of it is very derivative; Most of it is an imitation of Arthur Jones' design. He's the who invented nautilus, back in the 70s. In the late 80s he was unhappy with his own lower back exercise equipment, and with a new company - medx, designed equipment for the testing and rehabilitation of the lower back.

Based on the testing, they found healthy people had a glaring weakness, something that exercise as little as once a week could repair. It had to be atrophy (the condition where muscles were unused...) because many people would make strength gains that were highly unusual - some people over 1000%.

Just do a google search of Medx Lower back rehabilitation and you'll find lots of options.
posted by filmgeek at 4:47 PM on October 18, 2007

My husband's got a herniated lower back disk, and doesn't want to do surgery until it's absolutely necessary. When he gets a bad flare-up, his doctor's willing to prescribe a course of methylprednisolone. So far, it's done the trick every time. He also did a couple of rounds of epidural steroid injections that he says helped a lot---but mostly because they made it possible to actually do physical therapy. (Make sure you are actually getting physical therapy for the right problem, though!).

Also, stay away from the vibrating over-the-chair massagers; apparently they make things worse.
posted by leahwrenn at 6:12 PM on October 18, 2007

Physical therapy did nothing for my herniated disk, which was pressing on a nerve. I ended up with surgery (diskectomy, removal of part of the disk) and instantly was relieved from the pain. Okay, but that didn't take care of the weakness, etc...

I started doing Pilates -- hands down the best thing for my back. After two sessions I felt a change. Nothing fancy, just a mat class. I have a couple of DVDs at home as well. If I let it go, my back gets weak (I'm a writer, and basically chained to my desk and laptop -- a recipe for back issues) and I feel bad again -- but the surgery took care of the debilitating sharp pain. Strengthening the core is key, and Pilates does a great job of that. Yoga is also good, but IMO Pilates gets me there quicker and I can feel my back specifically getting better, whereas yoga limbers up the rest of me, with back improvement being more of a side-effect.
posted by mdiskin at 4:56 AM on October 19, 2007

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